The people of Sinoe County say they are now convinced that the Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL) investment in the county is beneficial and have therefore pledged to work with the company's oil palm development.
According to an Executive Mansion release, the assertion was contained in a Statement read on their behalf by Rev. D. Lasanna Seqeh to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf during a visit to GVL oil palm plantation in the county on Monday, March 17.
In their Statement, the citizens said the realization of the true intent of the investment comes in the wake of an initiative by President Sirleaf to explain in detail, through the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the benefit to their communities including their rights to their land and the company's rights to the concession area as contained in the Concession Agreement between the GVL and the Liberian Government.
The citizens furthered that the detailed explanation from Internal Affairs' Deputy Minister Varney Sirleaf served as a convincing tool to forming a common front with government and GVL to realize its investment and development outcome as stipulated in the Agreement.
Rev. Seqeh emphasized that, according to the Agreement, the company has the potential to change their lives as demonstrated by the initial engagement with the affected communities which has led to thousands of their sons and daughters being fully employed at the company, thereby being able to sustain their families.
Speaking of their endorsement of the company earlier, Paramount Chief Johnnie Brown assured the Liberian President of the citizens' fullest cooperation and protection of the company's properties.
Paramount Chief Brown spoke of the construction of schools and a health center which have been opened by the company as some of the benefits of the company's presence and therefore needed the citizens' protection as a demonstration of their appreciation for the assistance brought by the company.
On behalf of the GVL, the senior controller, Mr. Jeffery Benson, pledged the company's commitment to upholding the contents of the Agreement as it operates in the concession area.
Mr. Benson said they are fully aware of the farming needs of the local communities and will do nothing to prevent the people from farming contrary to claims by those resisting the company's operations. He named farming rights, respect to freely express grievances, and the right to give out or not to give out their land as some portions of the Agreement that the GVL seriously adheres to and will not comprise these citizens' rights.
"Madam President, we have initiated a program called participatory mapping which include the citizens that will lead to them advising us where we can expand or not in protecting their sacred areas and this has greatly helped us in resolving some of the land problem we had from the initial stage," Mr. Benson disclosed.
The GVL Executive informed President Sirleaf about the planned construction of the oil mill complex in an effort to add value to their operation which is expected to be fully operational in 2016 thereby creating hundreds of stable jobs for the people of affected communities. The factory is expected to be constructed in Tajuwon District.
Mr. Benson thanked the Government of Liberia for granting GVL the opportunity to invest in the southeastern Liberia and promised to buttress government's effort to improve the lives of the people.
Responding, President Sirleaf expressed delight at the level of peace and understanding now existing between the two sides and admonished GVL to remain further engaged with the people. "While the company and the people are resolving their issues," the Liberian leader said, "Government will continue to protect the rights of the two sides and particularly praised Paramount Chief Johnnie Brown for his mediatory role in resolving issues that seriously slowed down the company's operation."
She also thanked the Legislative Caucus of Sinoe County for equally remaining engaged and assured the peaceful resolution of all land issues with GVL.
President Sirleaf particular praised the initiative by the company to construct an oil mill in Sinoe County describing such move as in the right direction as Liberia was now fully ready for investment with ten years of uninterrupted peace.
Meanwhile, the Liberian leader has ordered the immediate halt to the operations of a Chinese company, SKY, on the Cestos River until all investment agreements are met. According to the locals, the company is mining sand and gold along the Cestos River thereby impeding the free flow of the river and at the same time undermining the Cestos River Bridge.
The Chinese miners there told President Sirleaf that they were not mining the sand but admitted that they have plans to mine gold and have applied to the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy for a permit which they said is being processed. But in the absence of the license, they can be seen building water vessels on the Cestos River as part of preparation for the gold mining operations.
President Sirleaf, en route to Greenville, Sinoe County on Sunday, March 16, ordered an immediate closure to their operations and admonished the locals of their responsibility not to allow their environment to be abused without reporting it to the county authorities or central government.